Public Health Resources


Date of this Version



Severe Illness by Plasmodium Species USA, OFID


U.S. Government Work


Background. Recent reports of Plasmodium vivax associated with severe syndromes and mortality from malaria endemic areas questions the “benign” course of non-falciparum malarias.

Methods. We retrospectively analyzed data from patients reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with a diagnosis of malaria parasite single-species infection between 1985 and 2011. Patients classified as having severe illness were further classified according to outcome (survival versus death) and clinical syndrome.

Results. Among all cases, .9% of Plasmodium falciparum cases resulted in death and 9.3% were classified as severe, whereas .09% of P. vivax cases resulted in death and 1.3% were classified as severe. The odds ratios for severe illness among 15 272 diagnoses of P. falciparum relative to patients diagnosed with P. vivax (n = 12 152), Plasmodium malariae (n = 1254), or Plasmodium ovale (n = 903) was 7.5, 5.7, and 5.0, respectively (P < .0001 for all); in contrast, the corresponding odds ratios for death among those severely ill was 1.6, 1.1, and .8 (P > .1 for all), respectively. Compared with P. vivax (n = 163), the odds of P. falciparum cases classified as severely ill (n = 1416) were 1.9 (P = .0006), .5 (P = .001), and 1.3 times (P = .1) as likely to present as cerebral, acute respiratory distress, and renal syndromes, respectively.

Conclusions. Although less common, patients presenting with non-falciparum even in the United States can develop severe illness, and severe illness in patients having malaria of any species threatens life.